This conversation transpired between my parents as we turned on the New Year’s Eve Twilight Zone Marathon:
Mom: “Can you believe it’s the last day of 2012?”
Reminders that it’s the end of the year abound today. The gym was full of Resolutionaries (more on that tomorrow), and my Facebook feed was littered with reflections on 2012. Of course, I had to participate in the Facebook reflections. It’s practically required. But…why?
Everyone is aware (on some level) that the calendar year is nothing but an arbitrary organization of time. There is no real difference in the progression of time between December 31st and January 1st any more than there is between July 23rd and July 24th. So why do we treat New Year’s as a time for reflection and renewal?
You may be surprised at how relatively recently the world adopted to the calendar we all use today. In Roman times, the New Year was a drunk, sexually-charged celebration on January 1st, according to the Julian calendar. With the spread of Christianity there was a desire to move away from the decidedly pagan history of this date (despite the intentional co-opting of the pagan celebration of the winter solstice for Christmas; perhaps New Year’s orgies were too much for the church deal with). Some Christian countries began celebrating the New Year on Christmas, others on Easter (despite its varying dates every year), and some on March 25th (the celebrated date of the angel’s announcement of conception to the Virgin Mary). The Gregorian calendar eventually recalibrated the calendar around a January 1st New Year once again.
Outside the traditionally Christian empire, the Chinese New Year is a significant cultural celebration of the coming of spring; Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, is a holiday of reminiscence by tradition, in which participants must account for their behavior over the past year to G-d. Hindus celebrate their New Years on different dates depending on their location, although the fall Festival of Diwali is well-known.
Various traditions for the New Year exist worldwide, and many of the celebrations are not tied down to an annual calendar date like the secular January 1st celebration. This seems to resonate better with me than strictly calendar-based holidays; as far as Christian holidays are concerned, I’ve always liked that Easter and the Lenten season follow lunar cycles. Similarly, the older I get, the less concerned I am with calendar-based holidays. With work schedules and life events, it’s not always possible for my family to be together to celebrate Christmas on December 25th; this year we celebrated it on December 30th, last night. And that’s ok with me.
I appreciate that many people will take this week as an opportunity for reflection and rebirth, but I encourage people to not wait for an arbitrary date to make positive changes in their lives. Take time everyday for self-reflection and self-improvement, don’t wait for the calendar.